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Thread: Week 50- Superhero Universe

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 50- Superhero Universe

    Itís Tuesday! The best day of the week for me, really. This week is especially nice, because Iíll be headed to the San Diego Comic Convention International in a little more than twenty-four hours. Iíll be attending panels, making new friends, and meeting up with at least one of our fellow Fanboys, John Lees. Iíd call that a great week.

    Weíve been talking a lot about superheroes lately, and weíre continuing with them this week. You didnít know how much work getting a superhero universe set up would be, did you? To be honest, neither did I, until I started doing it. But letís get into the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

    Do you watch Lost? (Huh? Steven, youíre losing me.) Doesnít matter. Youíll catch up soon enough. So, do you watch Lost? I do. I tried to get into during the second season, but found it kinda dense. It was hard to penetrate, and there were a lot of questions I wanted to ask, and the answers would lead to more questions. So, I stopped watching it, and finally got back into it by watching it from the first season on Hulu. [I watch a lot of shows on Hulu.] When I started watching from the beginning, and then going on through the seasons [currently in the middle of season four], I was amazed at how interconnected everyone was, and they didnít know it. Add some powers, and you have a great superhero universe set up. [And I specifically didnít use Heroes as an example because Lost is a better show.]

    When youíre standing up a superhero universe, there are a few things that you MUST follow in order to be successful with it. Learn the lessons of the failed companies that have come and gone before you, one of the most spectacular crashes of an interconnected universe being CrossGen.

    The first rule of a shared universe is just that: itís a shared universe. I suggest that you make connections behind the scenes to different characters. Pen-Man dates Lotus Girl, who had a baby by Gerald, whoís split personality is Pen-Manís arch nemesis WhiteOut; Graven Image knowís Pen-Manís moment of death, and is trying to keep him alive by keeping Pen-Man away from One Liner, who happens to be Lotus Girlís estranged brotherÖ In a shared universe, all of these characters need to not only interact, they also need to be somehow connected behind the scenes. Instant drama, sure, but it also makes things seem just a little more real. Just donít overdo it.

    The second rule of a shared universe is: donít overdo it! For the love of oversized digital clocks everywhere, donít overdo it. You can overdo it with the connections so that things become improbable, but more than likely, youíre going to make a ton of titles in order to ďcompeteĒ with Marvel/DC. Forget the fact that you donít have the money to do this. Weíre not even going to worry about that. What weíre going to worry about is creating a glut of properties for your universe.

    Storytime.

    When I first decided to write comics, it was something my cousin and I were going to do together. We had a LOT of ideas for a lot of different books. We had about ten different ongoing series we wanted to do, with more on the way. It was superheroes, and we tried to fill every niche we could: regular neighborhood heroes, world-class heroes, a couple of team books, a supervillain book, a cosmic book, a wild sci-fi book, a magic bookÖyou can see where this is going. If we had a concept that we thought had legs, weíd turn it into an ongoing series, and weíd keep getting up. It got to the point where we noticed weíd have to hire writers in order to help us tell the stories in our universe. We knew we wouldnít be able to write them all ourselves. Did that stop us?

    Not in the least.

    Donít do this. Just donít. Instead, create ONE book, and introduce characters in that book. [See Invincible for a good way to do this.] If those characters have enough reader interest, then you can think about expanding your universe. But it needs to be done organically.

    The Marvel Universe didnít just come into being. They were basically a collection of stories that became a universe over time. It was done organically. This is what I want you to do. If youíre going to create a shared superhero universe, you have to let it grow organically. A single title at a time. I know you donít want to hear ďslow and steady wins the race,Ē but thatís what Iím advising you to adhere to. Even with that advice, you can still go the way of CrossGen. I donít want that to happen to you.

    The third rule of a shared universe: understand how your science works. This is where your powers as a junior scientist will really come into play. If you really want to know your characters, break down their powers as scientifically as you can. Look at what Kirkman did for Invincible. He modeled a handbook after the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which is much better to my mind in breaking down powers than DCís Whoís Who and their Secret Files & Origins.

    This is probably the most enjoyable, labor intensive part of setting up a superhero universe. You get to play with and tweak your characters to your heartís content, before ever putting them through their paces in a comic. [Just remember: five villains to every hero.] Itís also pretty easy. Generally, youíre dealing with science, and scientific rules are easy to adhere to, as well as to break if youíve got a scientific enough reason for it. You can go quantum with things, or skirt the metaphysical/paranormal with things like telepathy. Easy. Just understand how your science works.

    The fourth rule of a shared universe: make sure your characters are interesting! Youíd think that would be first, but youíd be wrong. Having a shared universe means that itís populated with lots of characters. The characters that you choose to spotlight are going to be the heroes that will make or break your universe. Since thatís the case, your showcase heroes have to be interesting. Remember, they are going to be the lens through which your universe is going to be viewed. The more interesting and compelling your showcase character, the more compelling your universe will seem.

    Since weíre talking about characters, letís also talk about power levels for a little bit. When he first appeared, Professor Xavier was so powerful he was able to affect the brains of robots. As heís gotten older, the Hulk has gotten stronger. Hell, even one of his catchphrases speaks to it, with him being the strongest one there is. Thor can put on a belt that will double his strength. Marvel went so far as to create Class 100, meaning a character could lift 100 tons or more. Superman used to be able to move planets. Spider-Man alternately can lift 20 tons, then has trouble lifting a VW Bug.

    If youíre creating a hero within a role playing system, I suggest using that systemís strength rating across the board. This will ensure that your characters will have a stable base that wonít fluctuate [unless you want it to, of course]. Make sure that the power ratings translate well on the page, too. And please, donít forget to do some sort of studying. If your cosmic character is forty stories tall and eats planets for sustenance, then itís safe to say that theyíre firmly entrenched in the uber-upper echelon of the power scale. Donít have them at the power level of Captain America. It just wonít work. Junior scientist.

    Next are the locations you use. I have questions when it comes to this: where is Keystone City? Gotham? Metropolis? Place them on the map for me, please. This is going to be difficult for most of you. Iím a little fuzzy on it myself, and thatís with me seeing maps when Sovereign Seven was being published. [Just went way back, I know.]

    Anyway, Iím not much of a fan of made-up locations. They only make sense to the creators, and then you have to go and place them somewhere in the real world. And the problem is that most times, these places end up looking like New York City. Although Gotham is a character in and of itself, itís also a basically New York at night. Metropolis? New York during the day.

    Iím a much bigger fan of using real locations to place your characters in. Itís just easier, and to me, grounds them more. The problem then becomes that you still end up using New York as a default city where everything happens. There have been complaints about it. But by the same token, when you try to get away from New York, the readers donít come. Go ahead and try placing your heroes in San Francisco. See what happens.

    Of course, the choice is always going to be yours, but understand that it will be hard to have readers know where things are happening if you use made-up places. Whereís Dakota? Exactly.

    Next are the niches that have to be filled. Heroes and villains with powers are one thing, but you have to decide on their origins. Mutants [born with their powers], accidents [mutates?], aliens, magic users, martial artists, gods, technological, demons, monsters, hidden races, and what have you. These niches all have to be filled, hero, villain, and those that wish to be left alone alike. Donít forget the cults, sects, and corporations, as well. If you want a vibrant, full world, then these all have to be represented.

    Since weíre talking superheroes, we also have to talk super-science. Iíve said it before, and Iíll say it again: superheroes are science fiction, and as such, you have to learn to stretch to those boundaries. You canít get away with 60s style gobbledygook anymore. Now, your technobabble has to sound as authentic as you can make it. That means your fiction has to be based on actual science.

    Example: I was reading Popular Science a couple of years ago, and there was a small article about a couple of guys who made an algorithm that had voice recognition, so if you sang a song, even a few bars of it, it would find that song for you if it was in their database. Know what my first thought was? That was the first step toward a universal translator! The next step is the Google Wave, which can correct a word that is misspelled only because of the context itís being used in. Where have you been, instead of where have you bean. Add those two together, incorporate a translator, and viola. Sure, the idea of a universal translator is nothing new, but the reality of it? See what Iím getting at? Use real tech as the basis for future tech. Yes, there are going to be those who are better at this than others. Doesnít mean you shouldnít try it.

    There is one thing that you shouldnít do, but I know youíre going to do, anyway. Everyone does it, but Iím going to urge you not to, if you can at all help it.

    I donít want you to make approximations of characters you love for your own universe. You want to make your own versions of Superman, Batman, Captain America, and so on. Resist the temptation, unless you can add something unique and useful to the character. I mean, only a billionaire can afford all the toys of a Batman or an Iron Man, unless you do something interesting with them. Resist the temptation, because readers are going to see them for what they are. Hyperion and Nighthawk. Apollo and Midnighter. Laurel and Hardy. [Okay, maybe not the last.]

    It takes a lot of forethought and planning to make a new universe nowadays. So many considerations and things to keep in mind, so many disparate things that have to hang together well in order for a single title to seem robust and lively.

    When I was working on Fallen Justice, the entire mini had been plotted and was in the midst of being written when I realized there werenít enough heroes or villains in order to make the world seem realistic and full. When I mentioned this to Cary, he agreed, and I went on a tear of creating new characters. [Youíll have to read the series to see what happened with these creations.] A lot of the considerations that Iíve presented here are usually taken for granted. I know I took them for granted. Thatís not something I want you to do. Fallen Justice could have been basically a hollow universe. That wouldnít have been any fun to read.

    Create full universes. Know how everything hangs together before you start working on the first issue. Even if youíre only talking about a single corner of your universe, the more you can mention in passing and have it make some semblance of sense, the more robust your universe, and the readers will want you to explore more of it.

    And thatís it for superheroes, unless someone wants me to go into something specifically. Next up, your favorite and mine, horror!

    No homework. Go enjoy the updates thatíll be coming your way concerning the convention, and wonder where Iím at while theyíre coming in.

    See you next week!



  2. Join Date
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    I'm with you on everything except the made-up cities.

    I LOVE 'em.

    Everyone can own them, like Springfield in The Simpsons.

    Plus, you don't have to worry about "what does that building look like" and "do those streets even connect.

    If you need a story in a park, your city has a park. if you need a warehouse district, a zoo, a library, what have you...your city can have it.

    It's like having your own president for your world. Yeah, Obama's been all over the Marvel, Image and other universes, though not DC. DC seems to have learned that using a real president puts a time stamp on your universe. presidents serve 4 years. They can serve up to two terms. If you have a character in his mid twenties to mid thirties shaking Kennedy's hand in the sixties (Superman) and Reagan's hand in the Eighties (Superman again) And Clinton's hand in the 90's (Yup, Supes) you just made superman at least 50 something years old IN CONTINUITY. Not good.

    I realize I've strayed a bit from our made-up cities. But basically it says from the get go "Look, this is only 90% OUR world, and 10% made-up-Sci-Fi/Fantasy Superhero world, and that 10% will account for any and all differences intended or mistaken, from our real world and its history."

    Powerful statement that frees up a LOT of story room. Plus, real cities change. Building go up, they come down, and just like the presidents, that can put a time stamp on things. A shot of Spidey swinging between the Twin Towers lets you know how long he's been patrolling NYC.

    Plus, When DC sank part of San Diego to create Sub-Diego it broke that sense of "I'm there". However if you have earthquakes tear up Gotham, everyone can accept that a LOT easier.

    And don't try and dub this "lazy writing" either! Done right, you may not have to RESEARCH your city, but you DO have to keep an accurate accounting of where you put what. You readers will remember that St. Forby's Cathedral was in downtown Editor's Ville in issue 2 but is overlooking the river in issue 7.

    So, yeah, having the real cities as backdrops when you NEED them, but basing most things in your won fictional cities is perfectly feasible.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  3. StevenForbes Guest

    I never said it wasn't feasible. I just said that I wasn't a fan of them. However, I do want to thank you for the alternate view on the topic!



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    I'm all about alternate views! I see the world through kalidescope lenses!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  5. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenForbes View Post
    But by the same token, when you try to get away from New York, the readers don’t come. Go ahead and try placing your heroes in San Francisco. See what happens.
    How about LA?

    This seems odd to me. In any other form of media, characters can be placed anywhere. It doesn't make a lot of sense (which certainly doesn't mean it isn't true) that it can't be done in comics. It makes me wonder why. Something to keep in mind, though, I guess (of course now I want to base a government-sanctioned superhero team in Washington D.C., just to be contrary)

    Where’s Dakota?
    Minnesota, actually.
    But that's probably not the one you're talking about.

    I don’t want you to make approximations of characters you love for your own universe.
    Uh oh. Too late, I'm afraid.
    (Although, if you've gotten around to reading that last script I sent for TPG, I'd be curious whether you spotted who inspired Shadowdancer. I think I have him pretty well disguised, but I may not be the best judge.)

    I'd also be interested in your thoughts on the importance of shared universes. How necessary are they?

    Not everything I'm doing will fit in the same universe (and if the worlds/settings are substantially and obviously different, that doesn't seem like a problem), but some probably could share a universe without much trouble. Do you think it would be wise to, say, make all my modern hero books interconnected in a shared universe? Or is just letting each book (or title) be in it's own "pocket" universe a valid option? Is there an expectation that every title from a given creator is taking place within the same universe, and how strong is that expectation if it exists?
    Last edited by CalvinCamp; Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 12:24 AM.



  6. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by madelf View Post
    Uh oh. Too late, I'm afraid.
    (Although, if you've gotten around to reading that last script I sent for TPG, I'd be curious whether you spotted who inspired Shadowdancer. I think I have him pretty well disguised, but I may not be the best judge.)

    I'd also be interested in your thoughts on the importance of shared universes. How necessary are they?

    Not everything I'm doing will fit in the same universe (and if the worlds/settings are substantially and obviously different, that doesn't seem like a problem), but some probably could share a universe without much trouble. Do you think it would be wise to, say, make all my modern hero books interconnected in a shared universe? Or is just letting each book (or title) be in it's own "pocket" universe a valid option? Is there an expectation that every title from a given creator is taking place within the same universe, and how strong is that expectation if it exists?
    See, sometimes, people just go and ask me to put on my sage hat...

    I think shared universes are important, because it comes from a setting of "wouldn't it be cool if Eraserfeet and Pen-Man met?" This is, I think, how most shared universes got started. Someone asked the "wouldn't it be cool if" question, and the shared universe is a result of that.

    I think the shared universe is important because it attempts to answer that question, and it helps to keep reader interest. And even though we love to think we're telling stories we want to read, we're really doing it for the readers.

    I don't think that a creator is expected to make a shared universe--and that is only when we're NOT talking about a superhero universe.

    Let's look at Wes Craven. Are Freddy and Shocker in the same universe? I wouldn't say so. Stephen King doesn't have everything he's written connected to the Dark Tower. I know that the things I've written happen in their own universes. Hell, I've got two distinct superhero universes, and one of them has a distinct "before" and "after" timeline.

    I would say that most writers, unless they're writing a superhero universe, aren't worried about a shared universe. Even things that are purported to be shared, sometimes aren't. Take a look at Wildstorm. You've got Wildcats (however it's being spelled), you've got Planetary, you've got Ex Machina. We all know that the Wildstorm Universe is puported to be a shared one, but Planetary examines something of its underside, and Ex Machina--I don't think it has crossed with any other title in the lineup, or been mentioned outside of its corner there.

    I would say that if your world isn't interconnected, Calvin, it would be vastly easier to write and have stories to tell about them. Let's take a look at my shared universe.

    If I get Pen-Man published as a comic at Dark Horse, that's fine. But I have Bomb-Lass sharing that universe, and Ape wants to publish her. I hadn't gotten around to introducing her in my Pen-Man limited series, so I can definitely go with Ape if I wanted to, but the problem becomes untangling the story in my head. If Bomb-Lass were to become Pen-Man's Catwoman (sexual interest/criminal), how is that supposed to happen when I've broken the universe by telling stories at two different companies?

    So you see how it can be troublesome.

    I honestly believe that readers (and I mean all readers, not just comic readers) are smarter than the average person. Those that read science fiction and fantasy are more easily adaptable to changes, and as such, do not expect things to happen in the same universe unless the writer specifically says so. Jim Butcher has two different series out. I haven't read any of his other one, but I'm taking the setting is something of a world of high magic and adventure. Think Tolkien. Now, I have no expectation whatsoever of that crossing over with Dresden. I would think that if he came out with yet another novel, set in the "real world," was about zombie monkeys, and was set in Minnesota, I wouldn't think that was part of any other universe but its own.

    This is my long-winded way of saying that I don't believe readers are expecting a shared universe unless it it is explicitly stated by the creator. So if you wrote four different stories about four different things, I don't think there's an expectation for it all to be under the same umbrella unless you said it was.

    Wordy bastard, I know. I'll shut up now.



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    Stephen King doesn't have everything he's written connected to the Dark Tower.
    Bad example, Forby, on BOTH the shared Universe AND the fictional settings front.

    King's fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine is the setting for at least 10 of his stories, and is mentioned in another 14 or so. A number of it's mainstay residents have appeared in multiple novels and short stories of his.

    In fact, after Directing STAND BY ME, Rob Reiner would name his compnay CASTLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT.

    There's a piece of trivia I never thought I'd get to use!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  8. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by SebastianPiccione View Post
    Bad example, Forby, on BOTH the shared Universe AND the fictional settings front.

    King's fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine is the setting for at least 10 of his stories, and is mentioned in another 14 or so. A number of it's mainstay residents have appeared in multiple novels and short stories of his.

    In fact, after Directing STAND BY ME, Rob Reiner would name his compnay CASTLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT.

    There's a piece of trivia I never thought I'd get to use!
    Actually, it was a PERFECT example, for the reasons cited.

    King is prolific, and the bulk of his stuff is in that shared universe...but not all of it. And that was what I was getting at.



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    So if I write a shared universe well...but don't share EVERYTHING I create...I will eventually get a movie deal, and a famous director will name their campany after my fictional city!

    I don't care what your point was, this what I'm taking away from it! :cool:


    See, and people say you're too negative!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  10. StevenForbes Guest

    Heh.

    Who says I'm negative? I'm not negative, I don't think. Truthful and opinionated, but not negative. If the truth spells out doom and gloom, there's a problem with the system, not the truth told or the message sent.



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